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Knowing What the Students Know (And Don’t)
Mar 28th, 2018 by Dr Karma

How can I tell what my students know?

Melissa and I are at the PCA/ACA 2018 Conference in Indianapolis. We’re talking about activities we do with students, related to our forthcoming book on evaluating sources.

But today I’m pondering: how do evaluate my students in terms of what they’re learning/what they know?

An informal survey I did with my students this quarter revealed that 90% feel that they know how to find scholarly sources on the internet.

However, only 63% of those same students say they know how to tell scholarly sources from nonscholarly ones.

Ummm . . .

Our inability to know what we don’t know is prevalent in college and beyond. It’s difficult, of course, for educators to know how to do our jobs better when so many uncertainties abound.

In my classes, I do a whole day on finding sources. We talk about genre (in an attempt to stop the students from calling articles “journals” and essays “novels”); we talk about the limits of open sources, including Wikipedia; we talk about what peer review is and why it’s important. I show them the subject guides, how to figure out who their librarian is, and how to work the databases.

These skills are tested later, of course. I have them do a basic quiz (find me a book on this topic, find me a peer-reviewed article on this topic), but applied knowledge is required when they do their later research. In upper division classes, I ask my students, as part of getting ready for their term paper, to find a peer-reviewed article on their topic and to write up an evaluation. (Many students tell me it’s their first time reading an academic article in their field.)

Quite a few students have problems finding one, never mind doing the analytical work I’m asking for. They try to do the assignment on magazine articles, on news pieces, on book chapters, and frequently on book reviews.

And this is where I get stuck. When my student thinks a short review of a book on subject x is the same things as a peer-reviewed article on x, what’s gone wrong?

Did the student skip that day in class?

Was the student there but not paying attention?

Was the student just rushing/half-assing the assignment?

Did the student know better but was hoping I wouldn’t notice?

Did I explain something badly, even though most people found the right type of source?

Is there a question I should be asking that I’m not even thinking of here?

I’m tempted to put a little check box on all of my assignments.

How did this assignment go?

  • awesome
  • it could have gone better, but I rushed it
  • I never actually understood what you wanted because you were confusing
  • I never actually understood what you wanted because I didn’t pay attention
  • I never actually understood what you wanted because I don’t care

Because I do care.

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Karlissa’s New Book!
Dec 13th, 2016 by Dr Karma

Today I came home from lunch with Melissa to find a few copies of our book at my doorstep.

We’re proud of this–twenty great assignments, with rationales and tips for integrating them into your classroom.

Melissa and I also both wrote a chapter.

Buy yours here or here.

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I have a hypothesis: we need more hypotheses
Apr 30th, 2016 by Dr Karma

As someone who scores straight down the middle on those left brain/right brain tests, I often use science and scientific concepts in my work. (My dissertation was an ethnographic study, and I’m constantly irritating other Atwood scholars by bringing neuroscience into my presentations.)

One thing I particularly want to integrate in the humanities, as a teacher, is the hypothesis. In the sciences, we propose a hypothesis, we conduct research, and we see if we’re right. As long as the research is sound, we’ve done a good job, whether the research proved us right or not. Whether the hypothesis is confirmed or not, we’ve learned something (even if it’s that we need to redesign the study to get clearer results).

Yet when my students approach their papers, they think they need to have a predetermined thesis before they even start to research.

This is an especially bad habit to instill in our students who will go off to grad school, where they will have to tweak their ideas and even abandon their ideas if they discover someone else has already published on that idea–something the grad students will only learn once they do enough research to position themselves in the discourse.

The basic problem: students who have their thesis set before they research will research poorly. They will discard research that complicates or contradicts their thesis (when it could at least be helpful in developing counter-argument). Also, when they’ve found the teacher mandated minimum required sources that confirm their ideas, they stop looking, stop researching, stop thinking completely.

Going into the research process with a hypothesis would allow for better work–the student’s opinion would be more informed, more complex. The student might do what we want her to do–to find more sources than will actually be cited in the essay.

Of course, we would still structure our papers the old-fashioned humanities way. I don’t need my students to tell me their hypothesis in the into, take me through the work (“To test this idea, I googled ‘Shakespeare actually a middle class ten year old girl from the Isle of Skye?’ and then read the first paragraphs of the first thirteen results . . .”), and then conclude with their results. We “show” our work in a different way.

But wouldn’t the paper be stronger if, when the student polished up the piece, that thesis in the intro was for sure an informed opinion based on thorough research?

 

 

 

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